Is GNLA regrouping in Garo Hills?

It has become known that GNLA bought sophisticated weapons, such as 150 to 200 AK 47, pistols, rocket launchers, and grenades, from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM).
(By Ibankyntiew Mawrie and Ferdinand Rani)

It has been known among the public that, while it is not unusual for criminals to regroup in the Garo Hills region of Meghalaya, the intention is often not to revive militancy but commit extortion to earn easy money. Now, a senior official in the government has lent more credence to this belief.

TNT-The Northeast Today has learnt that suspected followers of the slain commander-in-chief of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) Sohan D. Shira have been attempting to regroup, but as a criminal outfit engaged primarily in extortion and the illegal trade of arms and ammunition.

It should be noted that the separatist GNLA is a banned militant outfit of Meghalaya that was once responsible for a spate of terrorist activities in the Garo Hills region. The proscribed outfit was also suspected to be behind the IED attack in East Garo Hills that killed the Nationalist Congress Party candidate Jonathone N. Sangma on February 18, 2018. However, following Sohan’s death in 2018, the outfit’s strength has dwindled, and the militancy waned.

The senior official, under anonymity, stated that there are “only 30 to 40 loyal followers of Sohan, who neither surrendered nor were they arrested.”

He further added that “only these people were privy to the locations where weapons and cash were hidden by Sohan back in the days.”

It has become known that GNLA bought sophisticated weapons, such as 150 to 200 AK 47, pistols, rocket launchers, and grenades, from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM).

Despite rumours that the group had hoarded thousands of such weapons, till date, only a few hundred have been recovered by the police so far. However, Sohan’s death forced loyal cadres to go into hiding, leaving a slim possibility of uncovering this hidden cache.

Given their identities remain unknown to the police; it is suspected that the unrecovered weapons may now be a means of trade for extortionists. Indeed, it is believed that the group may have also hidden demonetised cash amounting to at least Rs 10 crore.

It may be reminded that Ri Bhoi police, in coordination with West Garo Hills police, on Sunday recovered a large cache of explosives materials from Umdu village on Umling-Patharkhmah Road, which is under the jurisdiction of Nongpoh Police station in Ri-Bhoi district.

Such frequent recoveries of weapons have raised many eyebrows, with Mukul Sangma, leader of the opposition party, Indian National Congress, claiming that militants have been re-grouping in Garo Hills.

When asked to substantiate his accusation, Sangma said, “Do you expect me to say anything unless I have some substantive (inputs). I have run the state for a long time, how I have restored peace. I don’t only depend on the police. You have to work together as a team.”

He further criticised the government for what he believed was a grave law-and-order problem and increasing incidences of youth joining militant outfits.

However, Meghalaya Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui retorted that “It is not a question of militancy. Anyone who goes against the law is a criminal, and he will be dealt with as per the constitution of India and the [Indian Penal Code]. I cannot differentiate who is a criminal and who is a militant — anybody who is against society is a criminal… but in what form? That is subject to debate.”

While admitting that criminal elements are trying to disrupt the peace in the state, Rymbui said the police are “keeping a watchful eye” on any suspicious activities and security forces are vigilant against the resurgence of any separatism or militancy.

West Garo Hills Superintendent of Police Vivekanand Singh Rathore maintained this alleged “regrouping” is not a mass organisation, but crimes “committed by at least three to four persons,” often repeat offenders, including those recently out of prison.

“However, all intelligence inputs are being processed and necessary preventive actions are being taken against such attempts,” Rathore added.

He noted that all field units are also on high alert for the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.

Relatedly, Rymbui informed that investigations into the various IED bomb attacks perpetrated by the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) are as well ongoing.

“Police are looking into many aspects… Not only the Khliehriat IED blast case, but other cases too will be solved,” he said.

The statement was in response to four overground workers of the HNLC who were arrested for their alleged involvement in the IED bomb attack at the police reserve in Khliehriat, East Jaintia Hills district.

On this account, Sangma reminded that the government should focus on development and create avenues for opportunities.

Alleging that businesses meant for locals are given to outsiders, he said, “Even the businesses meant for the local people are already being robbed off them and given to outsiders. I have nothing against outsiders, but the fact is that you cannot allow complete dislocation of their livelihood activities, which are based on entrepreneurship.”

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